In 1964, Japan was the host country for the Olympic Games. It was the first time that the Asian continent hosted the event and the country wanted to prove that it had recovered from war. In order to prove its economic power, Japan invested huge amounts of capital in the construction of sports infrastructures. The architecture of the sports buildings gave the image of a modern nation, developed and more powerful than ever. The gymnasium architecture of Kenzo Tange can be considered as a manifesto of the modern Japanese architecture that revealed itself to the world during the Olympic Games.
Modern Japanese architecture
Japanese architects have accepted the modern architectural trend very well. For example, it has been less of a traditional revolution, a culture shock, than in the West. From the confrontation between past and present came buildings of remarkable architecture and the development of a unique Japanese modern architecture. Moreover, with the economic upheaval of the time, the construction of buildings on an unparalleled scale made possible architectural and constructive innovations. The country, in search of a new grandeur, therefore easily encouraged its architects to renovate the image of the cities. At the end of the 1950s, Japanese architecture was led by Kunio Maekawa, Junzo Sakakura and Kenzo Tange, the first two having worked for Le Corbusier, among others. The following generation, notably coming from Kenzo Tange’s studio, continued these innovations with a new movement, the Japanese metabolism.
At the time of the 1964 Olympic Games, Kenzo Tange was Japan’s leading architect. He was in charge of the building that would remain the iconic gymnasium of the Olympic Games, an arena in the Yoyogi Park. Consisting of two covered gymnasiums united in a single building, the Yoyogi National Gymnasium demonstrates all of Kenzo Tange’s know-how. By combining raw concrete, glass and steel, he designed a double shell with harmonious curves and a vertiginous amplitude. It’s a building that is a clear example of modern Japanese architecture. At the same time, Japan is taking advantage of the boom caused by the Olympic Games to modernize its sports infrastructure in the country. A wave of modernist constructions, established without context in the cities of Japan.
Kagawa Prefectural Gymnasium
In Takamatsu, in the Kagawa Prefecture, Governor Masanori Kaneko commissioned Kenzo Tange to construct several buildings. Probably the best known building there is Tange’s Kagawa Prefectural Government Hall, completed in 1958. But he was also commissioned to build the Kagawa Gymnasium between 1962 and 1964. The building is on a smaller scale than the National Gymnasium but is designed to accommodate about 2500 people.
Kenzo Tange designed the gymnasium in an oval, curved shape, like a traditional Japanese barge, or like the lines of an athlete’s muscles. The structure makes use of all the architect’s constructive knowledge. It consists of a concrete ring, almost 80m wide, resting on 4 massive supports. The roof is made of thin concrete poured on suspension cables. This form of hyperbolic paraboloid allows the gymnasium to have a width of this dimension while having a height of 20m. The space freed up by the raised and suspended bleachers allows to define the entrance halls and the accesses to the changing rooms and sports grounds.
The brutalist building takes advantage of all the constructive properties of concrete, bending it, folding it, while being a work of monumental dimensions, totally decontextualized, like an object in the middle of the city.